Why'd you get into professional cooking and first exposure to it?

Joined Jun 14, 2002
I think this could be a nice bull session for all us.

Basically, I got started in cooking because I was a screw up. That's why it always gives me a laugh when we've got these otherwise successful career people wanting to transition to cooking. I was on a steady academic STEM track in high school, but fell apart when I got to college. After my first two semesters ended in disaster, my dad came to me and said "Son, this isn't working. If you still want to live off my wallet, you better find a plan B." I'd always liked to cook for myself, so I figured why not. So that fall, I trundled off to trade school in my spanky new whites, networked with my class mates, and got my first real cooking job. The rest is history.

My first exposure to professional cooking, outside of being a customer, was this video tape my mom gave me when I was a kid. The school she worked at was getting rid of some old junk, and she found this video in a stack of stuff from the long defunct voc ed department. It was about all pie making in a restaurant, staring this old black guy. I figure it must have been initially shot in the 60's. I was entranced.
Joined Feb 17, 2010
Some background.... My dad was an MD, his dad was an MD. I was told that he would pay for my college education, and it did not matter to him if I wanted to be a brain surgeon or a fry cook.

Why did we need a 3rd generation of doctors in the family? I saved him $100,000 in tuition  .
Joined Jun 14, 2002
My dad's cool like that. He's an engineer, but I was spared the "Y U no doctor??!!?" business. I think he just wants his kids to have a stable, happy, and successful (relative to their work) life.

My mom, on the other hand, had pretensions. She was convinced that it was beneath me and that I was wasting my life. I think it broke her heart when she found out that my first cooking job was flipping burgers at a strip joint.
Joined May 13, 2011
Funny how some people have such an aversion to their kids becoming cooks. When i came to North America, one of the first chefs i worked under - an italian - told me about a saying which went: "if you're too stupid for the army, you can still be a cook". That about sums it up, I think. I've been battling this image for thirty-five years. It's only changed thanks to the food network. Now chefs are sexy, and being a chef is HOT.  - just as poor an image of the real job as the previous one. I became a chef because the food business has been in my family for a couple hudred years. Butchers, chefs, bakers, hoteliers on both sides of my parents' families. It was kind of natural, and no one complained or was concerned when I made my choice. In fact, at first I was going to be a sausage maker and butcher like my dad, but he strongly recommendedagainst it, and encouraged me to become a cook instead. My folks didn't just support my decision, they pressured me to seek out the best places to apprentice at, too.
Joined May 13, 2011
Oh, and you guessed it, my first exposure was my dad's sausage factory at age five (we lived in a flat above the factory). I come by it honestly...
Joined Mar 18, 2011
I got my first job working in a kitchen when I was 16 at this little Italian deli where my mom worked. I started out making sandwiches, but they realized pretty quick I was much smarter then just the average 'sandwich maker' and they started letting me do more things, which lead to doing fruit platters and making pizzas and doing daily specials. 

Regular college quickly followed, because everyone said, "You're SUPPOSED to go to college!" and then culinary school. Its all been downhill from there!

My parents are actually really proud of me. I am kind of too.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
I went to camp ,but then got to old to be a camper , so I took a job in the camps bakery. I liked it ,told my mom I wanna be a chef. She had visions of me becoming a lawyer. Went to a VOC.HS in NY. Graduated with a 1 year scholarship to college for cooking. Recieved scholarship for 2nd year from NY hotel Assn.

   Then apprenticed in 5 NY hotels  Astor, Pierre, Essex House, Commidore, Plaza. Then to Friars Club in NY. After that on to France stayed at  Negresco Hotel the longest. finally left, only 2 of us spoke English Then back US.

   Said to myself there is no money in this restaurant business it's all in Volume Banquet and Catering so I specialized in that for about 30 years and was lucky got into upscale volume catering in the mid 60s with the right guys, at right time, in the right places. When catering in NY was at its peak.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
I was surrounded by family Deli's, restaurants,etc. Took up cooking in the deli at 11. Scratch, roasted our own beef, turkey, HMade sausage, spuds. Was running the place at 15 every minute I was not at school.

Graduated HS and my Father ( I think the only family member not in food. Officer in the Teamsters Union.) forced me into college for business. Hated it then, grateful now.

Then off to culinary school.

 Paris, Zurich. Staged in quite a few places. Made spending money by selling jean jackets and pants from the states.

Worked up. Very young Ex. Chef Americans Hotel. Burning out slowly. I would reward myself for a job well done with excessive partying.

Flipped over to the sweet side. Worked small places and worked up to Pastry Chef of large 1500 room property.

I kept mental notes of all the negetives along the way and challenged myself to open my own place correcting those things.

Selling everything I owned, begging and barrowing (not from family or friends) I got a 3600. cash loan from a great older man who baked bread all his life. He

said he was to old to physically help but always thought about doing the same thing. He fronted me funds 500. at a time. I rented a rundown/basically shut down

kitchen. In the worst area of town. Took 2 months to clean and repair it myself. 20 hrs a day. Called on previously worked properties and from not burning bridges I was able to

to get some basic wholesale orders. My first delivery vehicle was a old ford festiva. Proudest day of my life was meeting the old baker and giving him 1/2 the proceeds of the sale.

3 projects later all is well. My PChef has been with me for 20 yrs. every employee owns a share of the business and we respect their off time. M-F 9to4pm, Sat 8to1 and delivery.

We will never be wealthy, but the bill are paid. Priorities get readjusted when wify, major cancer w/transplant and 3 separate cancers for moi.

Would like to get into something else before I get too old, designing new production kitchen???

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Joined Jun 14, 2002

Whoah, when are you going to write your book? You worked through an interesting period of cooking history. I only have a grasp of American Restaurant history in that time. None at all in catering. It would be interesting to hear your experiences and thoughts.

I had thought that catering was a bigger deal before then. James Beard got his start in ~37 when he failed at singing and acting, and opened his own catering company with a friend. This got him his first cookbook and media appearances.

Lots of big names came out of Hotel Negresco. Must have been cool to work under Maximum. I'm trying to figure the dates, but you might have worked there with Joachim Splichal. He was probably a sous then. I worked for him at one of his minor Patina Group outposts for a while. Only meet him once when he did a walk through on the way to something else, seemed like a nice guy, but I was too starstruck to notice much.
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Joined Jun 14, 2002
Panani, you're an inspiration.
Made spending money by selling jean jackets and pants from the states.
heh, my dad did  the same thing at college. He'd sell his broken in jeans to the rich kids and exchange students.
Would like to get into something else before I get too old, designing new production kitchen???
Yeah? What kind of product line were you thinking off? I'm not sure where you could go from where you are now, except for like specialization. I think a highly modularized kitchen would be pretty cool, so you had flexibility to adapt easier. Dunno how much that would be possible.

You could do something totally crazy like that boulanger doing this hyper artisan thing outside of Paris. Sorry, forgot his name. His bakery is built around this big wood burning oven with several different chambers. He runs something like 8 different parallel work lines like spokes, all feeding into this monster oven. All work is done by hand, and they only make boules and baugguets. IIRC Peter Reinherdt wrote about him in one of his books.
Joined May 29, 2011
I grew up in a very Italian family in Northern California. I was the kid that was always in the kitchen helping while all the other kids were out playing or watching whatever sport was on at this time of year. I took home economics all 4 years in high school, we had an amazing kitchen and served breakfast 2 days a week. I was the cook every single day because I was the only one that could handle it. My mother opened a shity little burger join when I was 16 and I work that like a freakin slave until I was 19. I got a weeks pay a month because she FAILED at budgeting. The place closed 2 weeks after I quit and moved across the country.

I started working in a bowling ally as a pin setter and all around handyman, and cooked every night once they realized I could handle the grill myself on league nights with 26 lanes going none stop. Then I got offered a job at Alto-Shaam building all the basic warmers and deli units. Then they started a new line of combi ovens and hired a German engineer that I worked through all the R&D on them. During this time I also worked as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut and would help out in the dinning room on weekends. I found out that I LOVED waiting tables. I have the kind of memory that I never had to write anything down even in a 6-7 table section. A friend convinced me that I should start an apprenticeship for Carpentry with the local union, so I quit Alto Shaam but never quit serving tables, but I had to cut back my hours, and start delivery news papers 7 days a week to support my wife and daughter. I got scooped up from pizza hut to work at Applebee's one night when I was dominating the dinning room.

After about 1.5 years of 40-50 hours a week in construction, 15 hours a week waiting tables at Applebee's and delivering 250 papers a day and 425 on Sundays I had a breakdown. My wife ended up pregnant again and out pops a half Asian baby... Needless to say I was not able to give her the time she needed and she found it elsewhere. We got divorced and I lost all my ambition to do anything anymore. I dropped out of the apprenticeship, quit the paper route, and started working full time as a server, and was promoted to a corp trainer job. It was great because I was able to travel around and open new joints. Moved to Phoenix and worked there for about a year and moved back to Cali. Worked at Claim Jumper for about 2 years and was a server/bartender trainer there. and got offered a job in mortgage finance in 2001. Did that full time for 5 years, made an ungodly amount of money. In 2006 I left it because of the crazy amount of corruption, and not being able to sleep at night. Sold my 2 homes and moved back to Phoenix, took 2 years off work and got remarried before I started in Project Management at a big tech company there. Wife got a job here in Seattle, and I rethought what I was doing with my life and decided to go back to the one true passion I had... cooking for people.

Nothing in the world makes be feel better than to help someone that has had a shit day and help to turn that around and make it all better. I still do not really get to do that in the job I have now, but all my experience in the industry is VERY old and most of it was FoH. so I am doing what I have to do to be able to get the job I want in a few years.

Wow, sorry for the over-share here...
Joined Sep 18, 2008
OK, I've probably posted the following too many times, but I cannot find it.

As a child, the usual, cooking with Mother and Grandmother, forced into home economics in Junior High for a month, progressive school, girls took shop, guys took cooking.

Off to Junior College, then to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, typically needed money, remembered that my Father put himself through Cal Berkeley cooking for a sorority, no sororities at Cal Poly, found a diner, Addies, that opened at 10 pm and closed at 6 am, whoo-hoo, no conflict with school hours. Went to get a dishwasher job, ended up as the sole short-order cook, worked 9pm to 7 am for a little over a year in 1963-1964.

Crammed a four year degree in Ag Engineering into nine years, oh, two years out for U.S. Army, self employed as Ag consultant, except for four years as a corporate farm/ranch manager, until 1976, then back to being an Ag/computer consultant, including five years with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), commonly known as World Bank, in Portugal, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Yemen Arab Republic, where, besides doing my assignment, I had a ball trying out a wide variety of food and, when home, working to replicate it.

In 1991, started competitive C/W dancing, team, couples, and line, and opened a C/W dance studio. In 2000, joined APPCA and started a personal chef business that is still going.

2007, wife and I opened Le Bistro, 20 top upscale, not quite fine dining but white Linen. Closed that in 2010, not sufficient revenue!

Still doing the personal chef gig, consulting, as well as serving as City Council member.

Culinary education? Undergraduate degree from MHC, graduate degree from SHK
Joined May 8, 2009
lol, what an ass I am!

I took up the profession to make an ex-girlfriend feel regret.


There was a dish at a fine dining restaurant that I took her to when we were 15, 17.

She was amazed.

I wanted to learn how to cook it so that I could make her jealous?  I mean, did I really think that would do anything?

Did it do any good?


There were other factors, but I distinctly remember that situation being a major factor.  Everything else blossomed from there.

I just defiled this thread, didn't I? 

Joined Apr 3, 2010
I started to write a book ,but it was an expose of the catering business in New York. I could not start it earlier because I would probably been killed. The business was controlled 90% by organized crime. They also controlled Linen, Liquour, Garbage removal  etc

     .Now though since Donny Brasco  (aka)  Joe Pistone they are all gone in that sector. I must say  Rudi Gulianni helped to when he was a prosocuiter . I know Joe, and have gone out to dinner with him and wife on occassions.  And yes I worked for Max at Negresco, in fact when he came to NY he stayed at my house. Talk about knowing the business, him and Mr.Paul (Bocuse) unreal If I remember correctly it was 1971-72

      Catering when I got in had just graduated from house parties and halls to on premise multable room wedding palaces ,6 or 7 weddings and Bar Mitzvahs at one time  24 per weekend plus mid week gigs total 17 million gross per year . I ran a Place in NY called Terrace on the Park it was the old worlds fair heliport. and at that time the largest on premise facility in the world.Also a place called Regency House that did abot 5 million.  I had a blast and retired the first time at about 43 years old.  You Know your restaurant history, not many people knew of Maxim and Joach. EDb.
Joined May 26, 2011
My friend was working as a dishwasher at this small Trattoria across town, but couldn't handle it while going to school full-time so he gave me his job. This was the first time I ever worked in a restaurant. After a couple months I got really into it and started training in the mornings with the Chef. I was doing prep as a stagier in the mornings and earning my wage as a dishwasher at night. Eventually I was put on the line and someone else took my dish job. A year+ had passed and I was the right hand, if it weren't for me we would have never opened the new location. It was a ground up build. I quit after a month at the new place, I was over worked and WAY underpaid. Since then I haven't looked back, still cooking strong and now on good terms with my old Chef. in fact, we're going out for drinks tomorrow night. And his restaurant is doing better than ever.

But yeah, I did it the old fashioned way. My Chef, and most Chefs I've worked for always tell me how much they regret going to school and how much it was a waste of their time/money.

Oh yeah, "why?" Mostly I was just broke as f*** and needed a job, I've always like cooking but never thought of it as a career until I was in the kitchen. Also I liked the appeal of having a skillset that could take me anywhere in the world. Everyone needs to eat, and restaurants are always burning through cooks. I like knowing that I can get a job in a town before even setting foot there. Not sure when I'll get tired of it though. I'm only 23. Eventually I'll need to figure something out. Can't really have a healthy life and be a cook. I don't want to be that burned out, alcoholic, divorced guy in the kitchen.
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Was washing dishes for pocket money in the prairies, liked it, and after h.s took a 1 yr cooking course.  After that, I knew I knew nothing, but wanted to see the world.  First stop was Switzerland, and figured out very quick that ther was a huge differene inbtween apprenticed cooks and "Hilfskoche".  At 19 I was almost too old to start an apprenticeship, but I did it, probably the best decision I ever made.  After that It was a year a piece in a few nice Hotels in Zurich, then off to S'pore for 5 years,, then to Vancouver.  Worked a year first before opening up my own catering biz, which I had for 9 years.  Sold it in 06 and in 07 I re-invented myself and went over to the dark side where I now do artisan chocolates and pastries.

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